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This week is the start of SES San Jose (SES stand for Search Engine Strategies). The largest conference – possibly on the planet – dedicated to search engine marketing. One of the first sessions of this five day marathon conference, running up to four tracks at a time, was a session called "the Search Landscape". The first speaker at that first session was Bill Tancer from Hitwise, who showed that the statistics in the market suggest that the conference may not be quite such a behemoth new year.

Not that search is losing ground – visits to search engines were up 22% year on year showing the increasing importance of dedicating sufficient marketing resources to search engine optimisation. But social networking portals showed an even greater increase in absolute visitor numbers – rising 34%. News sites (like the Daily Mail) also showed larger increases than search.

So what’s happening here? Well – the base camp is changing. In the dark distance past (say… last year) the tendency was for internet users to set their home page to Google or a search company’s portal. Search had become so omnipresent and effective that it was just useful to start on a search engine and move from there. But that’s starting to change with the increasing personalisation of the internet and the advent of "mash up" sites (sites that incorporate several technologies or data from many places. I use today – but it’s likely to change before the end of the week because other base camp pages offer me all the advantages of a personalised search portal page with the added convenience of having my friends and contacts at the centre of my online experience.

In a truly personalised home page, the effectiveness of my time on the internet is far more effective. I want to be able to see – at a glance:

  • What my close friends have done in the last few days without getting email spam every time about people and things I don’t care about
  • Not just ANY news – I want news from the search marketing industry, my chess club, my village’s events calendar and my personal calendar for the next seven days – which my PA needs to be able to manage in my (increasing) absence.
  • My bank balance for my business and my personal circumstances
  • and I want to be able to completely change all that easily tomorrow
  • Oh – and can Google be embedded in there as well – so I get the best of all worlds.

Well – that’s more or less what I already have – and data from Hitwise is confirming that I am not alone. There is a huge and probably unstoppable move towards users having whatever they want at their fingertips as they start their morning’s internet journey. Friends will often be at the core of this start page for many, because it’s much more personal than a search box.

So how does that affect your businesses? Can you do anything about this or do you think it makes no difference anyway? Well I think you can do something very real about it, by changing the technology you use to communicate with your customers. In particular the way in which you use email. Changing our mass communication from email as the primary method to an online news room allows you to participate in this new phenomenon.

Here’s an example – and a very early one compared to the richness I will have by this time next year. The picture shows my Facebook homepage. I only joined Facebook YESTERDAY and with a few hours work, I can see in real time what my friends are doing. Very real things! On this screen I see my friend Andy Atkins-Kruger from Webcertain lost his bags on the way to the conference. Eytan Seidman from Microsoft has become interested in a tool that will allow him to read ebooks direct from his personal Facebook homepage. I can see some photos of a few colleagues getting drunk at parties last night, and my mate Rob’s comment about where Joseph was having his little soiree (which I attended – luckily bringing my own beer!) I have already this morning added a couple of events into my calendar to attend whilst here – effectively doing an RSVP at the same time) and I am about ready for my day on the one page. My search needs today started with needing to know things affecting me. I was not disappointed.

Now – if I had been truly interested in your company – and you had spent the time to be able to tell me in your newsroom, then I would already know. As it is, Danny Sullivan wins this round – I am off to the "Sphinn" get together for lunch and get to learn a bit more about all this social networking stuff at a real meeting.

Quite a groundbreaking shift of Internet use is going on here. Getting this right for your business could be vital to your whole business model within a frighteningly short space of time.

Dixon Jones